Benghazi Panel to Focus on Attack, Not Hillary Clinton Emails, Republicans Say (Wall Street Journal)

WASHINGTON—The House Committee on Benghazi will focus its long-awaited questioning of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on details of the 2012 attack on a Libyan diplomatic outpost, rather than on Mrs. Clinton’s email arrangements, Republicans said this week.

The panel’s hand has been forced by recent suggestions, including by some Republicans, that the committee’s motivations are chiefly political. That has shifted the dynamics of Thursday’s high-profile hearing, with Republicans facing pressure to show they are playing fair just as Mrs. Clinton faces pressure to show she didn’t botch a tragic incident.

Republicans remain eager to press Mrs. Clinton publicly on the State Department’s Libya policy before, during and after the attack in which four Americans died, while she looks to defuse lingering claims that the incident reveals flaws in her management of the State Department, her leadership or her judgment.


Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has been dogged for months by her decision to use a private email server while she served as secretary of state, an arrangement revealed by the committee’s work. But Republicans say most of Thursday’s hearing will tackle topics more directly related to the attack in Libya.


“There will be a focus on the Benghazi attack,” said Rep. Susan Brooks (R., Ind.), a committee member.


Ms. Brooks said Republicans would scrutinize the State Department’s overall Libya policy, its assessment of the potential threats, its response to the deteriorating conditions there, and how much Mrs. Clinton personally knew about the security situation.


Republicans also have raised the possibility that the business dealings of former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal could be part of the inquiry.


The committee is the eighth congressional panel to probe the attacks. But it is the first to conduct an investigation with full access to Mrs. Clinton’s email records, and this week the committee received new emails belonging to Mr. Stevens, the late U.S. ambassador.


Republicans will look to raise the email issue, even if it isn’t the focus of the day. The concern, they say, is whether investigators and the public have access to all the records needed to understand the events surrounding the attack.


Critics say Mrs. Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email server seemed designed to evade transparency requirements and may have put sensitive information at risk.


“Unfortunately, this is our only opportunity to conduct discovery with respect to documents that former Secretary of State Clinton had,” said one Republican on the committee.


Mrs. Clinton has said she turned over all the records in her possession, never emailed anything marked classified, and that her actions weren’t forbidden by State Department rules.


The panel consists of seven Republicans and five Democrats, who will each have 10 minutes of questioning per round. The number of rounds hasn’t been decided but staffers warned that the hearing could go late.


Mrs. Clinton and her defenders have portrayed the investigation as a partisan exercise, and the panel’s Democrats say they don’t believe Mrs. Clinton can get a fair hearing.


“I don’t think we’ll get a real sense of what they’re interested in until late in the hearing, when I think they’ll feel compelled to score political points and demonstrate to their base that this investigation wasn’t for naught,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.).


Relations between Republicans and Democrats on the committee have grown more acrimonious, with Democrats complaining about what they call the probe’s increasingly partisan tone.


Democrats unilaterally released the transcript of the committee’s closed-door interview with Mrs. Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills. Republicans have been pushing to release additional emails from Mrs. Clinton over State Department objections.


Mrs. Clinton recently told CNN the committee has become “a partisan arm of the Republican National Committee.” She was referring to remarks last month by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R.,Calif.), who said “everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable” until the special committee was formed, and now “her numbers are dropping.”


Mrs. Clinton left the campaign trail this week to prepare for the hearing. Republicans who tussled with her during the administration of her husband predicted that she would be well prepared.


“They will not throw her off balance,” said former Sen. Al D’Amato (R., N.Y.) who chaired a special committee on the Whitewater controversy in the 1990s. “She will be prepared to the teeth.”


Former Rep. Dan Burton (R., Ind.), who led investigations into the Clinton administration, said, “She’s very good. She’s a tough person to nail down.”


This is Mrs. Clinton’s third appearance before Congress to answer questions about the Benghazi attacks. She previously appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2013.